Saturday, August 18, 2018

Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe

Dune: The Alternative Edition Redux; science-fiction, USA, 1984 / 2012; D: David Lynch, S: Kyle MacLachlan, Francesca Annis, Kenneth McMillan, Everett McGill, Freddie Jones, Sting, Jürgen Prochnow, Sean Young, Dean Stockwell, Silvana Mangano, Max von Sydow, Patrick Stewart, Virginia Madsen, Linda Hunt, Alicia Witt 

In the year 10,191, Princess Irulan explains that the most important substance in the Universe is Spice, which can enable travel through space, but can only be found on the desert planet Arrakis, called Dune. The Space Guilds sends a Navigator to the Emperor who explains him that he plans to destroy the increasingly popular House Atreides. When the Atreides and their servants come to Dune, the evil Vladimir from the House of Harkonnen kills Duke Leto, while his son Paul and his mother Jessica are able to escape an hide in the desert. They join the Fremen tribe. Paul marries Chani and teaches them his special fighting techniques, adopting the name Muad'Dib. With the help of giant sand worms, they start a rebellion, kill Vladimir and place Paul as the new Emperor. Then it starts to rain.

Upon its release, even though it was one of the most expensive movies of its time with a budget of 40 million $, and even though it came during the "science-fiction wave" of the late 70s and 80s, David Lynch's film adaption of "Dune" was met with hostility and rejected by both the critics and the audiences alike. 28 years later, a certain fan under the nickname Spicediver assembled and released a fanedit of the film, adjoining it with deleted scenes and thereby extending its running time from two to three hours. The result: "Dune: The Alternative Edition Reduxe" is an improvement to the official cut, since it gave more room for the characters in the complex, dense storyline, explaining their motivations and reasons for acting. People unfamiliar with Frank Herbert's excellent novel "Dune" were utterly startled and confused by a completely foreign world set in the far future, with no relation to our time, and thus did not understand it back in 1984, yet after "Game of Thrones" and several other stories set in entirely fictional worlds, "Dune" became less cryptic if more patience was invested into it: it is a classic tale of several power clans fighting over dominance and rule, where the spice is an allegory for a valuable resource, possible oil, and therefore its possession enables more power, whereas Muad'Dib is an allegory of Muhammad, who organized various desert tribes into independence in order to take over the control of their own land over foreign imperial struggle. However, Herbert's novel was even more philosophical than that, since spice could also be used as a drug that expands consciousness, thereby changing the perception: there is no center of the world anymore after it, because that center is anywhere in someone's mind. Even with these improvements, this edition is also flawed: the last third is rushed one way or the other, hasting Paul's rise from an outsider to a leader of the Fremen tribe, and failing to dwell more on some philosophical concepts, instead focusing on an action finale involving Paul riding a giant worm that attacks the city capital on Arrakis. The movie should have been four hours long, and included more intimate scenes from the novel, yet it is better in this edition, especially in some crumbs of wisdom, such as when Paul listens to his father's words that people should not fear change ("But a person needs new experiences. They draw something deep inside. A longing to grow. Without change, something sleeps inside us, and seldom awakens. The sleeper must awaken").

Grade:++

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Deadpool

Deadpool; fantasy action thriller comedy, USA, 2016; D: Tim Miller, S: Ryan Reynolds, Morena Baccarin, Ed Skrein, T.J. Miller, Gina Carano, Brianna Hildebrand, Stefan Kapičić (voice), Andre Trixoteux

Deadpool attacks a convoy on the street in order to kill his nemesis, Francis, but the latter flees. Deadpool then digresses about his past: as Wade Wilson, he was a cynical mercenary who started a relationship with prostitute Vanessa. However, Wade found out he has cancer and thus decided to undertake an experiment in a laboratory, led by Francis, where he would be cured by getting mutant genes in order to be recruited by an unknown group. Wade was cured, but became disfigured and vowed revenge against Francis by dressing up as a masked anti-hero, Deadpool. Back in present, Vanessa is kidnapped by Francis' men. With the help of 8ft tall mutant Colossus and human torch Negasonic Teenage Warehead, Deadpool is able to save Vanessa and kill Francis.

"Deadpool" seems like an outburst of resistance against the "safe" superhero movies that reigned during that era, particularly the big budget Marvel franchize, in the form of one giant, untrammelled, cynical metafilm dark comedy that takes all those superhero cliches and then deconstructs and twists them until they are turned out into something new. When a movie starts off with opening credits that convey pure written parody ("Some Douchebag's Film", "Starring: God's Perfect Idiot", "A Hot Chick", "A British Villain", "Directed by An Overpaid Tool"), using one colossal camera drive inside a still frame in the middle of a "frozen" action sequence and is equipped with the fantastic song "Angel of the Morning" by Juice Newton, one already gets the impression this is not going to be one of those 'run-of-the-mill', predictable mainstream films. If "The Avengers" are a merry-go-round, "Deadpool" is a roller coaster: writers Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick act almost as Jerry Lee Lewis, not caring if they destroy everything as long as they have a blast and offer insane energy to the audience. A lot of credit should also be given to Ryan Reynolds, the creative mind behind this project who managed to get this unusual film going.

The story is controversial since the anti-hero swears, is cynical and naughty, yet its level of creativity is staggering, insomuch that it somewhat amends a lot of its flaws or misguided decisions. One of the funniest moments is after the experiment, when Wade, whose face is now full of scars, wrinkles and disfigurement, appears in front of his friend, Weasel, who says this insane line: "Your face looks like Freddy Krueger had sex with a topographical map of Utah". Deadpool's arguments with the depressive 'Goth' girl Negasonic Teenage Warhead also have a lot of sly wit ("Fake laugh. Hiding real pain..."). One highlight scene, near the finale, even has a wounded Deadpool having a hallucination of his girlfriend, Vanessa, lying on the floor, and all of a sudden animated little animals show up around her, including a unicorn, a bird and a heart sign—pure genius. "Deadpool's" biggest flaws are the occasional numbing, splatter violence, a couple of too cruel moments or an excess of pop-culture references, ranging from Ferris Bueller to Limp Bizkit, which can get 'off-topic' and stray way too far from the focus of the real plot. However, its characters are sheer fun and unpredictability, to such an extent that it seems as if the movie itself does not know what they might do in the next scene.

Grade:+++

Friday, August 3, 2018

Heaven Can Wait

Heaven Can Wait; fantasy romantic comedy, USA, 1978; D: Warren Beatty, Buck Henry, S: Warren Beatty, Julie Christie, James Mason, Jack Warden, Charles Grodin, Dyan Cannon, Buck Henry, Vincent Gardenia


Los Angeles. Joe is a football player who still waits for his big break, but his trainer, Max, believes in him. While riding on a bicycle, Joe gets hits by a truck and dies, but there has been a mix-up, since Heaven intended him to die in 2025. Therefore, angel Jordan sends Joe's soul back on Earth, into the body of rich energy industrialist Farnsworth, who was poisoned by his wife Julia and her lover Abbott. Joe instantly falls in love with activist Betty, who came to Farnsworth's mansion asking him to stop a project of an refinery that would displace hundreds of people from a small town. When Joe abides by her wishes, Betty falls in love with him. Joe also contacts Max and manages to persuade him that his soul came back in Farnsworth's body. However, Abbott manages to shoot and kill Farnsworth, so Joe goes into the body of football player Jarrett to win the game. Jordan erases Joe's memory, who becomes Jarrett, but stumbles upon Betty and asks her out for a date.

With "Citizen Kane", O. Welles set a precedent by getting nominated four times for a single film (best picture, best actor, best director, best screenwriter), and it took 37 years until this feat was repeated by Warren Beatty in his fantasy comedy of mistaken identity "Heaven Can Wait", a remake of the beloved film "Here Comes Mr. Jordan". Unfortunately, the merits of Welles for "Kane" are far superior and contain a more enduring value than Beatty's for "Heaven Can Wait", which failed to reach that status of a classic with time. This film is one of the more unusual ones of the decade because it seems so out of place for its time: it is so safe and old fashioned it seems more as if it came from the 50s, and not from the "wild" 70s. It is a good movie, yet the directors and screenwriters needed more than triple of the amount of inspiration and ingenuity to properly sell such an outlandish concept. The sequence of the plane in the clouds that transports souls seems very kitschy today, whereas several other moments haven't aged that well, either, due to their sometimes corny humor without a true comic timing. For instance, Julia and her lover, Abbott, tried to poison her husband, Farnsworth, and thus it seems illogical that Joe, who is now in Farnsworth's body, would simply ignore them and their future assassination attempts, and do nothing about them, instead focusing on assembling a football team, as if that is of no concern to him. Some of the better jokes are found in this second act, though, when Julia and Abbott are never quite sure if Farnsworth is toying with them or if he simply lost his mind: in one scene, Julia is in the hallway and takes a drink to calm herself, but as soon as Farnsworth/Joe passes by her, casually asking how she's doing, she drops the glass on the floor from shock. The love story between Joe and Betty is the strongest point of the film: there is something in that scene where they are in his car, but he constantly takes away his look from her, until he confesses: "I just cannot help but to stare at you". The unusual, but tragic-lyrical ending gives some weight to the story as well. While too simplistic at times, the movie is still charming and neat to watch.

Grade:++

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok; fantasy action comedy, USA, 2017; D: Taika Waititi, S: Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston, Tessa Thompson, Cate Blanchett, Jeff Goldblum, Idris Elba, Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Benedict Cumberbatch

Thor, the Asgardian god of Thunder, defeats fire demon Surtur and isolates its crown, thereby preventing an Armageddon. Back in Asgard, he forces his mischievous brother Loki to reveal where their father, Odin, is. However, Odin dies, and thus his evil daughter, Hela, is unleashed from exile and decides to takes over Asgard, destroying Thor's magic hammer. Hela becomes the new ruler and intends to invade countries and cause endless murders. Thor lands on planet Sakaar, where he is captured by Valkyrie and brought to fight in an arena with Hulk in order to entertain the planet's despot, the Grandmaster. When Hulk de-transforms into Bruce Banner, Thor and Valkyrie manage to go back to Asgard where Surtur is re-awakened in order to cause Ragnarok and destroy the entire planet in order to stop Hela. Thor, Hulk, and several thousands Asgardians escape in a spaceship.

After the first two "Thor" movies were deemed too serious and monotone, director Taika Waititi took over and decided to turn it into a parody, figuring that since these Marvel movies are big budget fluff, anyway, they should at least be funny. The wage: "Thor: Ragnarok" became the most memorable of all the movies of the "Thor" sub-franchize, and the most bizarre one at the same time. Some Marvel fans perceived this film as "blasphemous", especially since the storyline is chaotic and all over the place (the character of Grandmaster and his subplot simply "disappear" all of a sudden; the finale involving Hela is a cop-out), yet the movie is so much fun it almost rivals "Guardians of the Galaxy" at times. The Marvel studios started experimenting with new, independent filmmakers, but their risky strategy paid off: Waititi finally managed to make Chris Hemsworth loosen up and play his Thor as a real character the audience can relate to. When the first sequence starts off with Thor hanging from a chain and having this exchange with Surtur, a fire demon ("Thor, son of Odin!" - "Surtur, you son of a bitch!"), it is clear this will not be a typical 'run-of-the-mill' superhero blockbuster. The movie abounds with almost non-stop humor throughout, from the cynical character of Grandmaster, played hilariously over-the-top by Jeff Goldblum ("I'm upset! I'm very upset. You know what I like about being upset? Blame!" he says as he is about to confront his two henchmen) through Thor's argument with Hulk ("You know how we called you? The stupid Avenger!") up to the great little interaction between Thor and Bruce Banner, which almost sounds as if they are breaking up ("You're just using me to get to the Hulk. That's low. You're not my friend."). Cate Blanchett is having a field day as the over-the-top villain Hela, dressed all in black, some ideas are incredibly oddball and daring whereas it is neat to enjoy in a cartoon-like superhero movie that actually acts like one giant live-action cartoon: it is just there to have fun and refuses to take itself seriously.

Grade:++

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

The Circus

The Circus; silent comedy, USA, 1928; D: Charlie Chaplin, S: Charlie Chaplin, Al Ernest Garcia, Merna Kennedy, Harry Crocker

While running away from a police officer who confused him with a pickpocket, the Tramp enters a circus and disrupts a circus act, but the audience love him and find him hysterical. The circus owner thus hires the Tramp, but finds out the latter can only be funny unintentionally, not on purpose. The Tramp falls in love with a girl, the daughter of a circus owner, but she has a crush on Rex, a daring tightrope walker. In order to impress the girl, the Tramp also tries out to walk on a tightrope, but it doesn't work and thus gets fired. The girl goes with the Tramp, but he persuades her to marry Rex. The circus caravan leaves the Tramp behind.

One of the 10 highest grossing movies from the silent era, "The Circus" came during Charlie Chaplin's annus mirabilis, a time period when it seems the comedian was invincible, had an endless supply of ideas and made great films almost as on an assembly line, where everything he did turned out wonderful—which is evident even in the fact that the film ended up so elegant, fluent and smooth, in spite of its numerous production problems. An excellent comedy, "The Circus" abounds with numerous stylistic sight gags: the scene where a man is holding a child leaned on his shoulder, while the Tramp is eating the child's donut behind the man's back; the Tramp pretending to be a mechanical puppet who is hitting a pickpocket next to him, again and again, in an amusement park in order to hide from a police officer; the dazzling confusion of a police officer trying to capture the Tramp in a house of mirrors which has over a dozen reflections of both of them... The list just goes on and on, and it is remarkable how fresh these jokes look even today.

Chaplin, together with only a handful of other comedians from the silent era, such as B. Keaton and H. Lloyd, perfected the comic timing into true art, elevating it into a meticulous science process that, congruently, unwinds as if it is the simplest thing. Just take the sequence where the Tramp escapes from a lion in a cage—he is relieved, only to later on be scared randomly by a little cat. Chaplin, though, also gives his character an emotional dimension: just like many other great movies, even "The Circus" feeds off the author having a touch with the subject matter, a sort of semi-biographical resemblance, since Chaplin's career started in stage comedy and vaudeville, which resembles the situation of the Tramp in the story. He can only be funny unintentionally, when he is clumsy, but not on purpose, which symbolically speaks about how it is for something funny happening in a comedian's private life, only to find out how difficult and evasive it is to emulate it in front of the public, i.e. how strange it is to translate someone's talent into something useful and commercial. Unlike many other films where he gets the girl, here the Tramp ends up exactly where he started, in his own world, which is touching, almost as if Chaplin knew that the cinema is moving on without him in the allegorical last sequence, while he stays behind. This is a rich film, and it rewards richly, appropriately.

Grade:+++

Monday, July 30, 2018

Opportunity Knocks

Opportunity Knocks; comedy, USA, 1990; D: Donald Petrie, S: Dana Carvey, Robert Loggia, Todd Graff, Julia Campbell, Milo O'Shea, Doris Belack, James Tolkan

Con men Eddie and Lou owe a lot of money to mobster Sal. In a desperate attempt, they decide to randomly rob an empty mansion at night. However, once inside, they hear two messages on the answering machine: one, that its owner, David, has left it to the house sitter Jonathan while on a trip; two, that Jonathan has called in to say he cannot make it. Eddie and Lou thus stay in the mansion. When David's parents, Mona and Milt show up, Eddie randomly introduces himself as Jonathan, and thus gets dragged to parties and business meetings. When he proposes a business idea of adds on toilet doors, Milt starts to adore him, whereas his daughter Annie falls in love with the fake Jonathan. When Sal shows up again, Eddie tricks him into thinking he got a demolishing job from an official, and thus Sal gets arrested when he demolishes a building. Eddie finally admits he lied to all, but Annie still decides to stay with him.

Comedian Dana Carvey's foray into film world was met with lukewarm reception, since his "kick-off" comedy of mistaken identity "Opportunity Knocks" is an easily watchable, but also bland and meagre flick that did not do justice to its main star's talents. It starts off good, with several funny jokes—one of the best is the set-up where Eddie and Lou, out of desperation, break into a mansion to rob it at night, but suddenly hear two messages on the answering machine: the one where the owner, David, says he is out on a trip and that he left everything to his house-sitter Jonathan; and the other right afterward, in which Jonathan calls to say he cannot make it. There is an immediate jump cut to Eddie and Lou enjoying playing pool and drinking in the mansion the next day, marveling at their serendipity. Another good sequence establishes Eddie's uncle, Max: after a conversation in the exterior, Eddie wants do depart, but says this to Max: "Before I go, can I have my wallet back?" Max then snickers and returns his wallet, but after a while, this time he stops Eddie: "Can I have my watch back?" This amusing double-theft mirrors a little bit a similar situation in Lubitsch's "Trouble in Paradise", which also helped establish these characters who constantly trick each other. Unfortunately, some 35 minutes into the film, the storyline runs out of steam and settles for a timid, unmemorable and dull entertainment with too much "empty walk". A lot of jokes are tried, but they are without a truly sate punchline or a point. The sequence where Eddie improvises talking Japanese when he encounters a Japanese in front of Milt, is forced, whereas the subplot in which mobster Sal is so naive he falls for a Eddie's trick who smuggled Max pretending to be a building commissioner who leaves the office to make a big deal outside, in a crowded hallway, is unconvincing. The screenplay needed better jokes to keep up the viewers' interest to the end, though it does end on a rather satisfying conclusion thanks to a charming little ending.

Grade:+

Friday, July 27, 2018

Ménilmontant

Ménilmontant; silent drama short, France, 1926; D: Dimitri Kirsanoff, S: Nadia Sibirskaïa, Yolande Beaulieu, Guy Belmont, Jean Pasquier

A husband and wife are killed with an axe by a man in a village. This leaves their two little daughters orphans. Decades later, the two sisters are grown up and now live in Paris in a poor neighborhood. One sister falls for a man. They sleep with each other, but she if left alone after she has a baby. She contemplates suicide and walks around the streets, hungry. Later, she meets her sister, who has in the meantime also fallen for the same man, and is now a prostitute. Some people then kill the man on the street.

The favorite film of film critic Pauline Keal, "Menilmontant" still holds up surprisingly well despite its unknown reputation. The director Dimitri Kirsanoff has a refined sense for dynamic, modern and energetic visual style that is established thanks to a very movable camera, in complete opposition to the static camera plans of the silent era, and thus the movie seems almost as if it was made today, just without sound and in black and white cinematography. However, his use of cinematic techniques is limited, save for a couple of exceptions (the double exposure of the sister and the flow of river overlaid on her head, as a symbol for her gloomy emotional state in which she is contemplating suicide; the montage of the sister sleeping with her lover...) whereas the story slips into the melodramatic-soap opera territory at times due to its too serious, too determined tone. The movie has a very lyric feel to it, the highlight being the emotional, but still restrained and tasteful sequence of a man eating on the street and simply leaving some bread for the hungry woman sitting next to her, without looking at her, almost as if he wants to keep up his persona. A quality film, though it will be met with split reactions: it has no subtitles or intertitles, which just aggravates the already difficult task of the viewers at trying to connect all the dots into a purposeful whole (is the first murder in the very first scene elusive until it is understood in the context of the second murder, motivated by betrayal?) from the sometimes hermetic choice of narrative.

Grade:+++

Monday, July 23, 2018

The Doll

Die Puppe; silent romantic fantasy comedy, Germany, 1919; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Ossi Oswalda, Hermann Thimig, Victor Janson




Baron of Chanterelle wants that his lineage continues, so he calls all maidens to try to marry his nephew, Lancelot. However, Lancelot does not want to commit and runs away to a monastery. A monk makes a proposal to him: since Baron placed a 300,000 francs reward for him to marry, Lancelot should simply marry a puppet to trick him. Master Hilarius creates a doll that looks exactly like his teenage daughter, Ossi, and decides to sell the doll to Lancelot. However, Hilarius' apprentice accidentally breaks the doll—so Ossi steps in and pretends to be the puppet. Lancelot brings Ossi to a party where she has trouble hiding her "human" side and holding still. Finally, in his room, Ossi reveals she is a real woman to Lancelot, who marries her.

One of the early films from director Ernst Lubitsch, from his phase when he was still working in Germany, "The Doll" is a charming and gentle little romantic fairytale and comedy of mistaken identity in one, a one which still seems fresh today. Lubitsch placed the entire story in an artificial setting, including paper trees, a paper house and even the two horses in a carriage are men in costumes, thus already emphasizing the fairy tale tone of the film, yet he also kept a lot of his trademark, humanistic humor. In one early sequence, the little apprentice kisses the doll, and then turns around and kisses Ossi's mother, as well, saying: "Just so that nobody feels neglected". The tangle lifts the film into its highlights, yet it ofers so much to excellent actress Ossi Oswalda, who is sometimes irresistibly cute while her character pretends to be a "stiff" doll in front of Lancelot, yet often has to "break character" by almost winking to the audience (Lancelot wants to change her dress, but Ossi slaps his hand my moving mechanically; during a party, a hungry Ossi cannot resist but to take a bite from a plate, and thus chews only when Lancelot is not looking, but when he turns around toward her, she immediately stops and pretends to be still; Lancelot leaving and Ossi sighing from relief because she can finally relax...). Her mischievous smile, looks and "mechanical" movements create an enchanting set of situation that carry the entire film, while also slowly announcing how the young couple is falling in love, thereby resulting in a light, yet also meaningful little film.

Grade:+++

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise; romantic comedy, USA, 1932; D: Ernst Lubitsch, S: Herbert Marshall, Kay Francis, Miriam Hopkins, Edward Everett Horton

Venice. Gaston Monescu is a small-time crook who just robbed a certain Mr. Filiba while pretending to be a doctor. He meets Lily, who is also a crook who wanted to rob him, and they fall in love. Some time later, Gaston and Lily are in Paris, where an ultra-rich woman, Mariette Colet, catches their attention, so they steal her diamond purse in an opera. However, when Mariette offers a stunning 20,000 francs reward, Gaston goes to her mansion and returns her bag, feigning that he found it somewhere. Upon hearing that she has over a 100,000 francs in her safe, he manages to persuade Mariette to hire him as her secretary, planning to rob her in a few weeks. Mariette and Gaston fall in love, but he decides to escape when he stumbles upon Mr. Filiba again. In the end, Gaston departs with Lily, but not before she stole Mariette's purse.

A remarkably elegant, calm, unassuming and elevated comedy by the cinematic maestro Ernst Lubitsch is today rightfully regarded as a classic, since the director crafted a funny, intelligent, emotional, cultured, wise... In short, an all-encompassing achievement that operates on a high comic level, while at the same time enriching the American cinema world with the 'European flair'. It takes some long 20 minutes for Lubitsch to finally prepare his set-up, but it is worth the wait since once he does, the storyline flows smoothly and has a meticulous structure. Lubitsch, just like his disciple B. Wilyder, is first and foremost a writer—not a director—and thus puts all the focus only on the story, the characters and the dialogues, neglecting cinematic techniques almost entirely, settling only for the conventional, classic camera shots, yet when the former ingredients are so delicious, nothing else matters. The culture clash between the small-time crook Gaston and the ultra-rich Mariette—which subtly mirrors the contradiction of the rich and the poor during the Great Depression of that epoch— is one of the building blocks for the film's humor: upon returning her diamond purse, the bewildered Gaston is flabbergasted by Mariette's mansion and enters the bedroom, spotting an expensive 18th century bed. He is even more surprised when Mariette says this: "Oh, I got tired of sleeping in antiques, so I gave this bed to my secretary!" Mariette is so carefree she then goes on to the safe on the wall and starts unlocking it, while Gaston is right behind her, staring greedily at the safe and holding up his hand to imagine operating the combination of numbers.

"Trouble in Paradise" is filled with endlessly quotable lines, which sound like music to the film buffs ear. In one scene, for instance, Lily is jealous at Mariette, but Gaston ensures her: "As far as I'm concerned, her whole sex-appeal is in that safe!" However, Lubitsch is also highly inspired in numerous visual, 'common sense' jokes. For instance, Mariette has two annoying suitors, the Major and Mr. Filiba. During a preparation for the dinner, the Major prepares the guest list and places the paper with his name right next to Mariette's plate—but puts the paper with the name "Filiba", of his rival, far away from her, at the end of the table, just in case. In the opening segment in Venice, Mr. Filiba was also robbed by Gaston who was in disguise, but meets him later in the film again, in Paris, yet cannot remember from where he knows him. Until there is a scene in which Mr. Filiba puts a cigarette in an ashtray in the form of a gondola and has a sudden 'association realization'—this is superior humor. Another great moment involves the clock montage, in which the camera is only displaying the clock all the time, while all the lines are heard off screen (Lily departing from Gaston at 5:00; Mariette asking Gaston to go have dinner with her already at 5:13; the night shot of Mariette asking Gaston to spend more time with her after a dance at 10:45 PM...), yet they illustrate the gradual growth of affection between Gaston and Mariette without showing anything, which is genius. Needles to say, Miriam Hopkins and Kay Francis were terribly underrated actresses, and it is great to see them shine in this edition. A very sympathetic and genuine film, yet only true masters can take the most complicated and difficult ingredients and make them seem like they were the easiest thing to do—which is obvious in the fact that the film seems simple, yet very few directors have managed to make something like it.

Grade:+++

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Destiny

Der müde Tod; silent fantasy, Germany, 1921; D: Fritz Lang, S: Lil Dagover, Bernhard Goetzke, Walter Janssen, Hans Sternberg

A small town, 19th century. A young couple arrive with a carriage to a tavern. While the woman is distracted, Death, in the form of a man in a black robe, takes away her fiance. She goes to the underworld and asks Death if he can bring back her lover. Death then tells her three stories about lovers with tragic endings: in a Middle Eastern city, a Caliph does not want his daughter to fall in love with a Christian man, and thus has him executed... In Venice, Monna is engaged to the wealthy Girolamo, but is secretly in love with the ordinary merchant, Gianfrancesco. Girolamo thus tricks Monna into attacking Gianfrancesco while they are both wearing masks, while a Moor kills Gianfrancesco by stabbing him in the back... In a Chinese village, a magician is summoned by the Emperor to entertain him through some magic tricks. However, the Emperor falls in love with the magician's assistant, Tiao Tsien, and wants to separate her from her lover, Liang. Tiao Tsien takes the magician's wand to escape, but the Emperor's guard kills her lover... Back in present, Death gives the woman until midnight to find someone to replace her lover's demise. She tries, but cannot find anyone and thus decides to die herself and be reunited with her lover in death.

Widely thought to be director Fritz Lang's breakthrough film, "Destiny" is an unusual and allegorical tale about fatalism and the inability of people to escape from tragedy, not even when they are happily in love. Lang takes a lot of inspiration from Griffith's "Intolerance" since the main story is just a framing device for three more stories set in the past (a city in the Middle East; Venice; a Chinese town), except that here the reoccurring theme of selfishness of other people who prevent the love of a young couple is underlined by having the two lead actors, Lil Dagover and Walter Janssen, play lovers in each epoch, symbolizing the endless cycle of their fate, which in turn inspired later allegorical films, including Aronofsky's "The Fountain". Strictly speaking, these three stories are rather superfluous and have little to do to contribute to the main one in the end, which makes the movie not that impressive anymore. The best one is arguably the Chinese story, since it had several opulent set designs combined with the technique of double exposure to conjure up the feeling of the magician's magic tricks (flying on a magic carpet; a miniature army walking beneath his feet; a flying horse) featuring several bizarre characters (the Emperor, for some reason, has extremely long fingernails). However, despite the fantasy concept, the storyline is presented in a rather standard, routine edition, not managing to ignite on a higher level. For instance, there is only scene that illustrates the love of the couple: the one where they are in a carriage, and the man is so shy that he has to throw a blanket over a goose inside in order to properly kiss the woman. Lang was not in his full element quite yet, yet even in this rudimentary edition, he managed to inspire several directors to craft several similar surreal movies.

Grade:++